In Andrea Frank’s YouTube video Cuts, the camera scans a photographic image of a green forest as it is being sliced by a laser cutter. The whine of the machine and the glittery fractures that appear in the clear Plexiglas surface convey a sense of menace and violence, even as you realize that actual trees aren’t being cut down and it’s only the illusion – first, that you’re viewing an actual forest, second, that the surface consists of three-dimensional plastic rather the paper of a photograph – that’s being desecrated. The piece is as much about perception as it is a metaphor of the fragility of forests and powerful forces of technology, hinting at the interweaving complexities of the contemporary world and the challenges inherent in saving the planet – not the least of which is our misperception of the forest itself.
Frank, an artist who is an assistant professor of Art at SUNY-New Paltz, is showing two new pieces at the Team Love RavenHouse Gallery, located in New Paltz, related to the local forest. One of the pieces is a collaged photograph of a mossy log that is 13 feet long. Frank’s new work represents an approach based on research and science, rather than sentiment, as the best way to express her deep concerns about the damage to the environment caused by human activity.
Over the last year, she accompanied Mohonk Preserve forester Ethan Pierce and researcher Shanan Smiley on several expeditions into the surrounding forest, taking pictures while they collected data. “I learned that invasive species are a big problem. If we don’t manage the forest, we’re going to have lots of vines and a completely different forest, which has nothing to do with what we have now,” said Frank. “We’re losing the complexity, and complexity is life. It’s a little shocking to understand what we’re seeing and know how dire the situation is.”
Besides decaying logs, her subjects include burnt-over areas and old-growth forests, located mainly in the Shawangunks as well as near Nyack. She is in the midst of accumulating an extensive archive that eventually will capture particular locations throughout the seasons and otherwise document changes through time.
In Systems: Tree, Frank has painted out sections of the collaged digital photograph. She said that, because the complexity of the sustainable systems in nature transcends our comprehension, by pasting many small pictures together, as a way of following and concentrating on a detail and then isolating that feature in the digital images by blocking out the background with white or gray paint, she hopes to create a system of engagement. “It’s intuitive. Painting is a system that helps us understand what’s out there. The piece makes the forest more readable. Also, it’s a way to enjoy it.” Gallery-owner Cornelia Calder said that smaller pieces in the series, which help provide a context, will be available to viewers on request.